While the sky grew dark and poured out torrents of rain, I waded into an information storm of policies, procedures and best practices this morning. Today was the first day of my summer internship at the Hardesty Regional Library. I had forgotten how much there is to learn when first entering into a new professional arena; the policies, procedures, best practices, cultural aspects—it’s a lot to absorb. All told, I completed seven hours toward my internship today.
Mr. Louix Escobar very generously dedicated most of his day to my orientation, reviewing policies and best practices, explaining administrative structure, and providing a tour of the library collections and facilities. By relating personal experiences, Mr. Escobar illustrated a number of very useful lessons in best practices for personnel supervision and collection organization.
Mr. Escobar explained Hardesty’s new practice of rotating staff between the circulation desk, children’s desk and reference desk. This system helps all staff members to understand the responsibilities and challenges of each work station and enables staff to fill in for each other when someone is absent due to vacation or sickness. This practice also helps to eliminate the perception that some staff teams are more important or more powerful than others. I can imagine that if staff did not rotate among all three departments, some staff members might feel that working in certain departments was beneath them. I think this rotation practice is an excellent means of fostering a unified sense of purpose and a team spirit among all staff members.
Additionally, each department is equipped to provide circulation and reference services, which reduces the need to bounce customers from department to department. It is not transparent to customers as to why only certain staff can check out books or accept overdue fines, so now all Hardesty departments can perform these functions. The circulation desk can answer some reference questions as well, but certain reference questions that require lengthy research and/or special expertise must still be referred to reference staff. This arrangement makes customer service much more efficient and effective.
Several changes have been made in the arrangement of furniture and collections since the new Hardesty building first opened, and Mr. Escobar’s explanation of the reasons for these changes was very enlightening. Origninally the entrance hall was filled with armchairs, but now only a bench is provided in front of the new books shelf. Apparently when the comfy chairs were present, families were likely to linger and talk in this area, and because of the tile floor and vaulted ceiling, this made the entryway very noisy and crowded. By replacing the comfy chairs with a less-comfy bench, customers are less likely to linger in the entryway, and instead move on to the comfortable seating in carpeted areas, which are quieter.
When Hardesty first opened at its new location, it included space for a coffee shop. However, the coffee shop has closed and the space has been remodeled into a study room for customers and a catering kitchen for groups utilizing library meeting rooms.
The coffee shop represented part of an effort to create an atmosphere more like large bookstore, like Barnes & Noble or Borders. Mr. Escobar said he does not believe the bookstore model works for libraries. He asked what I thought about the trend to make libraries like bookstores, why the recent push for this design. I didn’t have a ready answer, although I said I had certainly read about this trend. I haven’t read enough to know if a bookstore design has worked particularly well for any particular libraries. Now that I’ve had time think about it, I’m certain that the reason behind this trend is an effort to make libraries trendy. Library professionals believe that the public views libraries as outdated, fusty, dusty, restrictive and unaccommodating. We are trying to reinvent the library’s image and reassert our relevance in today’s society. Some have thought that trying to imitate the trendy bookstores with trendy little coffee shops was the way to do this. However, we’ve seen recently, even before the economy tanked, that bookstores are struggling. Borders could be on the border of bankruptcy. Mr. Escobar argues that it never works to pretend to be something you are not. This makes sense. Libraries need to update their image based on the relevant and useful services they provide. It’s important not to lose focus on the library’s mission and purpose.
I would like to know more details as to why the coffee shop didn’t work, though. Not enough business? Too many spills? Too many noisy bean-grinding and frappe-blending machines? I’ll see what else I can find out.
I will continue my first day of library lessons in the next post.